Fireplace Safety: Slow Burn, Not a Raging Inferno

By Oretta Croushore, Property Manager for Home Rental Services

Close your eyes and picture a big stone fireplace. See the beautiful blend of yellows and oranges of the flames as they dance over the logs. Feel the warmth on your face. Breathe in the distinct smell of wood burning. What’s in your hands? Is it a cup of coffee or cocoa? Perhaps a glass of wine. For me it’s yarn and a crochet hook, coffee within reach. My puppy is cuddled up on one side of me, my kitty on the other. There’s a true crime documentary on the TV.  Such a cozy image. What a relaxing way to spend a cold winter evening. 

The cat’s getting up to get closer to the warmth of the fire. Aww, she loves a good warm spot. POP! That ember jumped right out of the firebox. I didn’t get the screen closed all the way. Thankfully the tiny piece of escaping fire landed on the concrete hearth and not on kitty. I better fix that. What if it landed on the pile of newspapers I have sitting there? I wonder where the fire extinguisher is. Hmm, I wonder how old that thing is. Would it even work if I could find it? I better go out into the garage and see if I can find it. I will just let the animals stay here and enjoy the fire while I’m away.

The chimney sweep says a small fire is better but I’m sure glad I made this raging inferno so I don’t have to keep adding wood. I’m just as smart as the chimney sweep. Wait, when was the last time he was here? Last year? I’m sure it’s fine. The chimney is brick for crying out loud. What could go wrong in there? I mean, it’s brick. This fire sure smells good. Kind of smells like when granny used to roast squirrels over the spit in the backyard during hunting season. Must be the wood. It was a little wet, after all. 

That escalated quickly. I can really let my imagination run wild if I let it. Pepper a little anxiety on there and we have a recipe for a worst case scenario. If you know me at all, you know I have a slight flair for the dramatic. I promise I’m not an irresponsible fire maker as it might appear above. I also promise the above story is a work of fiction and neither my beloved domesticated pets nor my outside critters came to any harm. Any similarities to real life is purely coincidental. I’m a Girl Scout and a property manager. I promise, I am respectful of fire. 

Smokey the Bear taught us all at an early age that only we can prevent forest fires. I don’t know of any famous house fire prevention animals. I like unicorns and I like fire prevention so, let’s say Flamey the Unicorn also feels that prevention is the key. Chimney fires are the cause of upwards of 25,000 fires a year in the United States. A little prep and knowledge could keep your home from becoming part of that statistic. 

Check your smoke and carbon monoxide detectors!  

Please, if you keep no other promises to yourself this year, promise to check your detectors. We have all heard you are supposed to check your detectors when you change the clocks. If the time change leaves you feeling wonky and you think you might forget, set an alarm on your phone to remember. Test them on a weekday morning when everyone is sluggish to get out of bed. See if the kids will respond to the alarm. Do they recognize what it is? This is not only a good family safety tip, it’s also fun for you as a parent. But don’t do it early on the weekend, that’s just mean. Funny, but mean. 

Get an annual chimney inspection and cleaning.

I don’t mean stick your head up there and see what you can see. I mean hire a certified chimney inspector. The folks at Sleep Easy Chimney Service and Repair have done countless inspections on the houses managed by Home Rental Services. https://chimsafe.com/

A Google search for certified chimney sweeps will give you some other options. Ask them for any tips they have for using your fireplace properly, burning the right kind of wood, etc. They will also check to make sure the chimney is free of cracks and  critters. Birds, racoons, and my dear squirrel friends like to take shelter in the chimney. Their nests can keep the smoke from properly venting out through the flue.Still not convinced? Read up on creosote. It’s the tar-like substance that can build up in the chimney and catch fire. It ignites at 451° F, expands, and can build up to 2000° F in less than a minute! 

Go for the slow burn.

Fire is visually fascinating. I have been hypnotized more than once watching it dance from log to log. The flames going low then jumping high again. Many of us have a little pyro in us that enjoys a good raging inferno. Your fireplace is not the place for that. Keep the fires small, built with just a few logs, and  toward the back for the firebox to reduce flames and ash from getting into the house. 

Open the glass close the screen.

The glass doors in front of a fireplace are designed to help insulate the house when the fireplace is not in use. They should  be open when you have a fire going. Close the mesh screen to reduce the risk of popping embers. 

Never leave a fire unattended.

Never, not once. Just don’t do it. You know how your microwave popcorn knows the second you walk away from it and that’s when it burns? Don’t tempt the fire. NEVER EVER leave a child unattended near the fire. NO!

Clean out the ashes between fires.

You know that metal bucket that comes with the fireplace tool set? That’s not for fetching a pail of water. Use the little shovel to clean out the cooled ashes and schoop them into that metal bucket. Did you know coals can remain hot for up to three days?!

Keep the area around the fireplace clean.

That means if you hung your stockings by the chimney with care, don’t you dare light a fire there. Hey, look. Flamey the Unicorn has a slogan. Same thing with floral, greenery, cards, anything hanging from the mantle. Keep the area around the hearth clear as well. 

Circulate the air when you have a fire burning.

Opening a window a crack helps provide the extra oxygen a fire needs to burn. Turning the ceiling fan on clockwise pushes the warm air down from the ceiling. 

Have a fire extinguisher handy.

It’s best if you can keep it in the room where the fire is. Make sure it’s up to date. We actually just replaced ours last year. I was a little shocked and horrified to find out how old the one we had was. 

Now, pour your beverage, cuddle up with man or beast or both, and settle in for a relaxing evening by the fire.